It is widely recognized that dry land conditioning sessions prepare you physically and mentally for an injury-free and powder-ripping winter. However, this type of training may be mysterious to the uninitiated. To simplify, effective pre-season training is made up of basic movement patterns and should be straightforward and intuitive.
Gravity-based snow sports represent unique types of movements. Specifically, greater vertical force and higher velocities increase the load on the joints and structures of the body. When planning a training routine, muscular strength exercises are an intuitive first choice, but conditioning routines must also incorporate balance, joint strength, muscular power and ROM (range of motion) exercises for injury prevention and performance. For a solid training plan, supplement two dry land sessions per week with three-to-four days per week of vigorous walking, hiking, or running to build general fitness.
Stability, mobility and breathing
The general concepts of stability and mobility are important. There are two levels of stability: stability of the joints and overall body stability. Overall body stability features strong counter-movements that help power and steer the body during a descent. These actions demand good core control, including muscles of the shoulders, hips and thighs.
The second concept, mobility, refers to how well individual joints move, and what their functional pain-free ROM is. Mobility exercises may involve just one or two joints, as in stretching the hamstrings, or may be whole workouts, such as yoga. Use moderate speeds, light weights, and purposeful movements when addressing mobility limitations.
A third fundamental concept is breathing; controlling body movements using the breath. Explosive movements are enhanced by strong exhalation. Slower movements and positions requiring longer contractions are best performed with deep, continuous breathing.
In dry land training for snow sports, we prepare for greater vertical loading and increased resistance on the joints of the lower body. We also prepare for rotational movements, and movements in which your center of gravity isn't directly above your base of support.
Vertical forces compress the body against muscular effort as we resist gravity. The muscle is contracting, so it is maximally activated despite being stretched. This is called an eccentric contraction, and snow sports are all about it. This is what happens on the slopes, as you sink with control into every turn. Eccentric exercises simulate the vertical forces that act on your muscles during a descent, reducing the risk of strains and pulled muscles.
Rotational and counter-rotational movements are the way we steer and correct on snow, whether skiing or snowboarding. Joints must be prepared for rotational force, such as twisting at the knee. Also, the lower thoracic region is the primary area for twisting the shoulders in the opposite direction from the hips. Twisting exercises that simulate this movement can really improve your skiing ability.
If you're interested in a hands-on session incorporating these concepts, join us for Vail Vitality Center's Winter Sports Conditioning session. This evidence-based dry land training program is suitable for all winter sports and features six, four-week sessions that address specific areas of conditioning and build upon one another as the season progresses. Classes are offered at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays during each session. For details visit www.vailvitalitycenter.com or call 970-476-7721.
Colin Davis holds a masters degree in exercise physiology and an advanced diploma in athletic therapy. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA. A retired ski patroller and high-altitude ski mountaineer, winter sports on steep mountain slopes have been his playground for more than 20 years.